Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seçim zamanı

I recently had a gig helping arrange some logistics for an NGO that was bringing a group of Arab politicians to Turkey to see how local elections are run here. When I met the coordinators, I joked, "The first thing you've got to tell them is that the guy with the most flags wins."

The streets of Istanbul are so festooned with election banners these days, from some spots you can barely see the sky. "Dream big!" one party exhorts; "Taking action for you!" another promises. While the strings of flags represent an alphabet soup of political parties -- AKP, CHP, DTP, MHP -- it's never been clearer to me how much an advantage the incumbent party has in advertising itself. The ruling AKP can distribute thick, glossy catalogs touting the "315 projects in 5 years" it's conducted in my neighborhood, Beyoğlu. It can put massive billboards bearing an image of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his coat dusted with snow and a huge crowd gathering behind him, advertising the party's final pre-election rally in the area: "In snow, in winter, in rain, all of Istanbul on its feet!" And, it can trot out the biggest, baddest campaign vehicle around.

While supporters of other parties circle Taksim Square in battered cars with dragging bumpers and megaphones duct-taped (OK, I might be exaggerating on that part -- but only that) to the roof, the AKP has a gleaming white tour bus with wrap-around advertising and a matching, concert-ready speaker system on top. All crank out campaign jingles as loud as they possibly can, the sound ranging from ear-shattering to merely deafening. While most find this aggravating, and rightly so, I can't help but get a laugh out of it, and strangely, a bit of nostalgia too. Istanbul is undoubtedly a noisy city, but music -- however painful -- blaring out of cars is something I don't hear much, certainly not the way I did in the Mission district, when the thumping of a low rider's overtaxed stereo, not the call to prayer, was the soundtrack to street life.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I got to pretend like I was a real foreign correspondent -- which apparently means downing unlimited Nescafé and cookies in the media center, where a sign said that computer use was "for the pressman only" -- last week at the 5th World Water Forum, a slightly mysterious, but certifiably enormous, week-long event held here in Istanbul.

As at any large conference, the sessions ran the gamut from tedious to fascinating, and sometimes a little of both. Though I probably should have attended some of the talks on financing and infrastructure, just to get a better sense of whether the forum's organizers really are evil corporate interests hell-bent on bottling and selling every last drop, my bleeding-heart tendencies drew me mostly to the panels on things like traditional cultural uses of water, migration and conflict, and women's issues -- the latter of which I wrote up for The National, an English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi (pictured at right).

I also blogged about each day's events for TreeHugger:

And if you read all that, you'll be as water-logged as I am now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Twilight of the Turkish repairman

repair shopWhen my friend Kelly said she was taking her broken TV to the "television hospital," I laughed. But she wasn't kidding. Her Istanbul neighborhood is full of TV repair shops called just that.

One of the things I love about Turkey is how readily, and cheaply, it seems you can get almost anything repaired. But just as Americans and Europeans are starting to (re-)warm to the idea of fixing things up, the spread of throwaway culture to Turkey is threatening repairmen's livelihoods....

Read the rest over at TreeHugger, my other blog home*

* Experimental blog cross-pollination alert